No parent wants good kids. We all want great ones! Yet, like anything important to you, parenting must be intentional and have some sort of a path. Here is my overview to the key steps:
1. Remember that it’s about the future, not today. Ultimately, parenting is concerned with equipping your child for handling 70 or so years of adulthood. It’s an investment in his or her future. It’s important to have this perspective because of how tempting it is to put out a fire today that solves a small problem but doesn’t help your child grow up. For example, it’s counterproductive to tell a stubborn child, “OK, you can play video games another 30 minutes and do your homework later, just stop complaining.” This little behavior, which we have all done as parents, teaches your child that complaining works when you want to get out of something. Far better to do it the hard way today and help your kid prepare for the future.
2. The goal is to develop character. I define character as that set of capacities required to meet the demands of reality. That is, your child will encounter the realities of not just homework, friendships, house chores and staying off drinking and drugs, but also dating, marriage, landing a good job, acquiring a home, having kids, handling finances and having a spiritual life. To pull off life’s demands, children have to be helped to have what it takes to succeed in a challenging world. Character is comprised of six capacities that we need to instill in our children. All the way from birth to leaving home, we need to help our kids learn these capacities. Summaries of each will round out this list:
3. Connectedness. Kids need to experience that relationships with others are the stuff of life. Research says that the healthier one’s relationships, the better one’s success in life. That means kids need to learn to be vulnerable, trust the right people and have empathy for others. These three skills will help them enter the world of relationships. Model connectedness, and talk about it with them.
4. Responsibility. Help your child “own” his or her life. That means they need to learn to be responsible for their actions and their consequences. Children need to learn that “No means no” when Mom and Dad say it. And they need to learn to be honest and say “no” to people who would like to control them. This is all about helping children respect the boundaries of others and set their own boundaries as well. Say a clear “no” and respect your child’s “no.” You are doing that when you say, “I understand you’re angry at me right now, and you don’t want to clean up. That’s fine. But because I told you yesterday that you have two chances to do what I ask, and you didn’t do it today, you’re in timeout. We’ll talk after timeout.”
5. Reality. The world is not fair, unfortunately, and things aren’t perfect. Your child will fail himself. And others will fail him, parents included. Kids need to learn to handle negative reality and not insist on things going their way. Help them to admit fault and to accept that when they fail, they are still loved. They also need to learn to forgive and learn from mistakes. Make failure a normal part of the dinner conversation, not something to avoid.
6. Competence. A great deal of life is about work, and working well. Kids need to learn what they are gifted at and what they have passion for: math, science, music, business, art or a host of other things. Not only that, they need to have a built-in work ethic so they can roll up their sleeves and do hard things to achieve something significant. Start with having your kids finish tasks, take out the garbage and help with meals and home cleanup. This creates an ethic that will carry them throughout their careers.
7. Morality. All cultures have a moral code of right and wrong, and of ethics. Make sure your children see your moral code, and sit down and talk about it with them. They have enough influences around them that are amoral. Be the parent with a code.
8. Spiritual life. Kids are naturally curious about God and want to know about Him. Talk about your own faith with your child. Read the Bible and pray at home with him or her. And find a church that is invested in healthy kid activities, where they will become engaged and enjoy the experience.
Your kids are your top priority, and you are the only parents they will ever have. Put the time into these eight areas, no matter what your child’s age is. For more information on this paradigm, read Raising Great Kids, written by myself and Dr. Henry Cloud.
Best to your parenting!
Dr. John Townsend